'80s - OMD (2010)
'The History of Modern: Evolution 101'
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (often abbreviated to OMD) are a UK synthesiser group founded in 1978 by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. Adding Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper by the end of 1980, this quartet was the core of the outfit until 1989, when Humphreys, Cooper and Holmes all left OMD to found The Listening Pool. McCluskey then retained the OMD name and continued to record and tour as OMD with new line-ups through 1996.
Though McCluskey essentially retired the OMD name in 1996, shortly thereafter Humphreys began playing live shows as OMD with other musicians on an as-needed basis, but without McCluskey.
Then in late December, 2005, OMD's official website announced a forthcoming reformation of the 'classic' 1980s line-up (Humpheys/McCluskey/Cooper/Holmes), both for live performances and for a new studio album. This reformed quartet began touring in 2007, and further successful sold out tours took place in 2008 and 2009.
OMD recently announced that they are completing a new studio album called 'History of Modern', which will be released some time in 2010.
I recently had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with Andy McCluskey - lead singer, bass guitarist, co-founder, and primary songwriter - and asked him all about OMD's career, his earliest TOTP memories, his nightmares, and, of course, ... penguins!
Taking it from the top, and being that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) was formed some 30 years ago, and sidestepping the occasional line-up fluctuations, would you have ever in your wildest dreams have believed that today, all those years later the core of OMD would still be recording new material, touring, and still being as beloved as ever before? "It's actually almost 32 years since OMD played our first and supposedly "one off" gig at Eric's in Liverpool in Sept 1979.
We are really looking forward to celebrating another birthday but certainly would never ever have imagined the band lasting
this long! The concerts that we have played in the last few years have been some of the best that we have ever done and with new album this year it hopefully looks as though there is a healthy future ahead."
Indeed, you met Paul Humphreys whilst both at Primary School in Meols, Wirral (UK) in the early '60s, which then allowed your relationship to continue onwards into the '70s. But, being that you were in Equinox whilst Paul was your roadie, at what stage did you both discover a mutual passion for electronic music - and what was the title of the first song you ever wrote together?! "Paul and I did indeed go to the same primary and junior schools in a little suburb across the river from Liverpool. Because we were in different academic years (I am 9 months older) we knew each other, but were not close friends."
"It was only when Paul saw me walking around Meols Park with my newly purchased bass guitar over my shoulder that he and some of his friends came to ask me to join their band. Because Paul and I only lived a few hundred yards apart form each other and he had built his own stereo (I only had an old mono record player) I started going round to his house to listed to my German import records - like Kraftwerk, Can and Neu."
"We developed our own interest in this alternative music and tried to emulate it as best we could with the cheap instruments we had and anything that we could borrow. The first actual song that I can remember us writing was called 'Pulsar Energy' and it eventually morphed int 'Electricity'."
At that time you were bouncing from one band to the next - The Id, VCL XI, Dalek I Love You - I guess searching for the right sound, with the right band members. Funnily enough though, it turned out that VCL XI was reformed and then renamed as Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark! Seemingly not one for regular band names, what did VCL XI stand for, where did the name Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark spring from, and did you guess that down the years that people would simply refer to the band as OMD - which, to this day, whenever said in the music world can only refer to one band?! (How cool is that!) "We certainly always wanted to use unusual names for any band we were in. I guess to indicate that the music was unusual. VCL XI was actually taken from a graphic on the back of the Radioactivity album by Kraftwerk. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was taken from my bedroom wall when we were looking for a name for that "one off" gig at Eric's."
"Two guys and a tape recorder playing songs that even our best friends thought were crap needed a name that told people we were different!"
"Unfortunately, during our absence from the world in the late 90's and early 21st century a host of other OMDs have arrived in cyberworld - Online Medical Dictionary, Organic Materials and Devices, Online Marketing fair in Dusseldorf, One More Day (a fantasy comic), and various others. And never forgety The Ozark Mountain Daredevils!!!"
Singles & Albums:
It seemed that right off the bat, OMD was a huge British hit band - 'Messages,' 'Enola Gay,' 'Souvenir,' and 'Joan of Arc' - but at the time was it all fun and games behind the scenes? Or was all the success taking its toll, single after single, album after album? "The early days were a wonderful rollercoaster! We never expected the success that we achieved ... and so quickly! I was rather intense and took the music so seriously that I only wish that I had lightened up a bity and let myself enjoy it more."
In reflection, and with 1983's Dazzle Ships turning out to be your first album that saw you lose chart momentum, why do you think that was? Were you trying to attempt some new musical moments that just didn't work - because come Junk Culture, a return to the poppier sound saw the mega hit single 'Locomotion' take the charts by storm! "We were always trying to make albums that were different to their perdecessors. We just went a little too far for the record buyers on Dazzle Ships. And, certainly we consciously and unconsciously pulled ourselves back towards more "pop" material after that!"
Having written 'If You Leave' for the John Hughes movie, Pretty In Pink (now a cult classic soundtrack, if ever there was!), are you surprised to still see that stand-alone tune of yours pop up in various other programs (Ashes To Ashes, etc.) - not to mention (over here, at least) certain car adverts? "'If You Leave' is by far the biggest hit that we ever had in America. We were delighted, but it is a shame that many Americans only know that song by us. It seems to have become an iconic '80s reference point in the US. Every time a TV show or commercial wants to suggest the mid-80s they use 'IYL'."
The media/press has it that you essentially retired the OMD name in 1996, but that in early 2006, some 10 years later, you announced a forthcoming reformation of the classic line-up ... which meant that the name came out of retirement, so to speak! Much like retiring a players sports jersey (over here) number-wise, did you really see it as retiring the bands name, or did you still continue to (semi) work under its banner regardless? "We definitely stopped and felt that it was all over for OMD. No one was more surprised than ourselves when we were offered the opportunity to play again!"
OK, here's a fun one, looking at the cover artwork for these three (3) albums, please describe what was going through your minds at that time - Organisation, Dazzle Ships and Liberator. "Obviously, our sleeves have always been designed by someone other than ourselves. So we can only respond to the images that the artist suggests. I think what Peter Saville was trying to convey on Organisation that we had shifted from the bright Hi Tech synth pop of the first album to a generally darker sound on the second. So he suggested the moody Scottish landscape."
"Dazzle Ships was actually suggested by Peter because he wanted to do a sleeve based on Vorticist artwork. Talk about the tail wagging the dog! And Liberator was a definite attempt to move away from the seriors nature of our often graphic sleeves into a wild brightness. It's not my favourite sleeve and probably reflects the messy album inside!"
And noting that you never put your faces on the front covers of any of your album releases - save for the Hits albums, which was more down to the record labels, I'd guess - why have you always had this facial aversion, so to speak? And are you happy that your Hits albums DO feature your faces? "We always prefered graphics. Partly because we hate having our photo taken, partly because the music was about ideas as much as personalities. We relented to record company pressure for the Best Of album ... I can live with it!"
Luckily for all us OMD fans, you are bringing out a new album this year, History of Modern. What can you tell us about this new album, its musical feel, and what songs are already standing out to you as winners - and why? "The new album sounds like OMD but with a few modern touches. We feel that it is an appropriate offering for 2010. We will see what the reviewers think. So far the few OMD fans and the record companies that have heard it have been very positive."
As we have yet to see the finished artwork for the release, what can you tell us about what we can expect - and who a) thought of it, b) who created it for the cover art, and c) will your faces be on the front cover this time?! "No faces! The idea is by Peter Saville and executed by Four23 design. It's graphic ... information graphics."
The Fun Five: - OK, it's now time to fire off some quick questions - to allow those that think they know OMD (or at least, Andy McCluskey) to perhaps think again!
a) Can you remember your very first TOTP appearance? What song/year was it and at what level of nervousness were you at that whole day? "It was 'Messages' in May 1980 ... we were shitting ourselves!"
b) Is there one of your songs that you look back on and would today change the title to, or a line/lyric from it - and if so, which one, and why?! "Very few actually. There are a few songs that I just don't like very much any more ... but only a few."
c) Do you have a recurring nightmare or dream - and if so, how does it usually end? "Still have nightmare gig dreams. Where we have not rehearsed or everything goes wrong. Always had them and still do. I know that the others in the band also still have these dreams."
d) What is your sweetest, guiltiest pleasure (food wise!) late at night? "Bags of crisps (potato chips). Unfortunately, because I have kids there's always some to be found in the house when you really shouldn't be having a midnight snack!"
e) If you could meet any deceased celebrity, who would it be - and what would be the first question you would ask them? "I am fascinated by warfare. I would like to ask Adolph Hitler when he first actually admitted to himself that the war was lost. I would be curious to know how long he allowed the slaughter to go on whilst he was in denial!"
And will the USA ever get to see OMD tour over here? There's the Here & Now, Rewind and Regeneration tours, but we never get to see you named on the bill for the American side of things. Is there anything we can do to change this? "We would so definitely love to come over to play. I love playing and touring the USA. I'm also married to a Yank so I am often over on holidays. We really hope that we will there in 2010."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (the flightless bird, not the chocolate bar!) ... do you? "You should have been in Liverpool last year. The whole city was covered in penguins. We love 'em!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
Various Photos Courtesy of the official OMD website.
If you’re interested in knowing more about OMD, visit their websites: